What's this all about, then?
It's a trip from Korea to Britain, by any means other than air.
The famous answer, sometimes misattributed to Sir Edmund Hillary: Because it's there. Mallory said a few other things, too:
"The first question which you will ask and which I must try to answer is this, 'What is the use of climbing Mount Everest?' and my answer must at once be, 'It is no use'. There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behavior of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron. We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise food. It's no use."
-- George Leigh Mallory, 1922
These sentiments are as true now as they were then. We're not going to be charting untracked wilderness or discovering new continents, prospecting for wealth, researching hitherto unknown languages or religions. We're not going to be feeding the hungry, curing cancer or bringing about world peace. We certainly aren't going to be making any money, and we probably won't have enough time in any given place to learn any new languages or cultivate our conduct. George continues:
"So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won't see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for."
-- George Leigh Mallory, 1922
'Joy' is a word not commonly used nowadays, outside advertisements for a certain brown, fizzy, caffeinated beverage, and I suppose it's a goal which has always been secondary to more concrete considerations, but joy is to be found in all things. I need to clarify this: joy is not the same as fun, and the state of being joyful is not the same as the state of happiness. Joy is a complex of many different factors, some of which are perhaps not even positive; an aggregate response to something profound. If I understand Mallory's meaning to be akin to Beethoven's meaning, it's the exultation of transcendence.
I'm from a small town in a small country very far removed from the rest of the world. I've felt, and wouldn't be surprised if other New Zealanders have felt like the kid with his nose pressed against the glass, looking at the world out there, but stuck in here. I'm not claiming to be hard done by: New Zealanders are blessed with a beautiful, exciting, spacious, peaceful and comfortably wealthy country, which most people are not. But there's a bizarre sort of inertia when you grow up so far removed from the world; the activation energy required to actually get your arse into gear and leave the place is very high, and to do so on a permanent or semi-permanent basis is much higher. But there's joy in them there hills, and in the rivers and mountains, the cities and slums, the deserts and oceans of the world. There must be.
That world, those mountains and rivers and cities and whatnot, are nothing without inhabitants. People are the catalysts for joy, and also for misery and such. So the joy to be found in travel is in part the understanding of how people work; and further, how the people of a land relate to and integrate with that land. People and cultures and things are only alien outside their proper context, and by entering into their milieu, things about a people which were formerly alien can become mundane. Or at least understandable, on some simplistic, childlike level. Childlike is ok, we all have to start somewhere. Perhaps we'll also bring a little joy to some people on the way.
Though not by design, our planned route takes us through almost as many lands and cultures as it's possible to go through. I say it's not by design, but it's not by accident, either. This trip is about experience, and it's about a transition from one stage of our lives to another. There's a concept in biology called 'cline' - the gradual change in an organism over geographical distance. The fundamental principle of a cline is the fact that any two neighboring organisms are fairly similar to one another, but those organisms distant from each other on the cline, while being recognisably the same thing, are radically different.
Using the term loosely, and probably to the horror of population geneticists, it occurs to me that Europe and Asia is positively thick with ethnic, historical, linguistic and cultural clines, and thanks to war, trade and religion, the supercontinent is itself the biggest of all human clines. The places in the world which are obscure, dangerous or unlikely are no less interesting than the places which are easy and friendly, and further, it's precisely because they're interesting, in cline terms or of their own right, that they're dangerous or unlikely. Afghanistan, the ancient buffer between Persia and India; the more recent buffer between the Russian and British Empires, and the current centre of religious/secular conflict in Asia, is perhaps chief amongst these. A nexus of several clines, and also a disruption of clines.
Reliwaiwance on technology
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T Minus 41 Days
Today is Saturday January 14, 2006, and we leave in 41 days. We have one more week of work remaining.
I've just finished setting up this site, but as yet there's no real content here.
If you spot any bugs or have any suggestions, click the [link/comment] link to the right.
The Dandong Ferry Company runs three boats per week from Incheon, South Korea to Dandong, China. We'll be taking the one which leaves on Friday, February 24 2006 at 1730 hours. Weather and sea-gods permitting, it'll get us into Dandong 15 hours later on Saturday 25 at about 0830. Intend to spend only one day (possibly one night) in Dandong, then get a train straight to Beijing to meet Stu and Toni.
There are three prices: Deluxe Room, KRW~220,000; Standard Room, KRW~150,000; Economy Room, KRW~120,000. Needless to say, we're going for the cheapest.